I definitely didn’t plan on making my second post for this blog Greek related, but what the heck? This last week (and today for that matter) was Holy Week and Pascha (Easter, but the technical Greek term for it). Holy Week is one of the most beautiful times of the entire year. There is different church service every night, each of them unique to the story leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. This year, I had the opportunity and flexibility to be able to go to the majority of the services, some I had never gone to before and some I had only experienced once. Nonetheless, I was satisfied with how the week went.
Holy Week unofficially starts with Palm Sunday, which happened last Sunday. The congregation receives palms in the shape of a cross to signify Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, as palms were placed in front of Jesus as he entered the city. In the Orthodox religion, it is custom to fast from meat and dairy the entire Lenten period, but on Palm Sunday, fish is allowed, so we ended church with a delicious fiesta, complete with smoked fish tacos (I know, super Greek, right?).
The next service I attended was the Bridegroom service on Monday night. This was the first year I attended a Bridegroom service, and it was beautiful. The church I attended did the service by candlelight since it began at 7 in the evening. It was a very beautiful was to execute a service. The Bridegroom signifies the intimacy of love that Christ has for all of us, in addition to the Second Coming. Holy Monday also commemorates the story of Joesph, the son of Jacob. The story illustrates God’s providence, promise and redemption. It also commemorates the event of the cursing of the fig tree, symbolic of Israel refusing to receive Christ and his teachings.
The next service I attended was Holy Unction on Wednesday. Holy Unction is one of the seven sacraments in the church. It is the sacrament of healing for the soul and body. At the end of the service, the congregation is anointed with oil blessed by the priests on their forehead, cheeks, chin and the front and back of the hands. Rather than rubbing the oil off, you are supposed to rub it in to your skin. I make it a priority to receive unction every year, as it is an important sacrament.
I had only been to Holy Thursday once before, but I forgot how amazing the service was. During the service, they read the 12 Gospel passages relating to the story of the crucifixion, as accounted by each of the Evangelists. It is one of my favorite services, just because I hear the story accounted by the apostles. This service was also done by candlelight, making it so nice. During the service, Christ is taken around the church on the cross, signifying the crucifixion that takes place. It is an emotional part of the service, as Christ is essentially dying for our sins.
(Side note: After service, my two good friends and I went to IHOP for a pre-Holy Friday feast! Since I was on a chocolate fast for Lent, I had these delicious strawberry crepes.)
I was happy when the week ended, because in addition to Holy Week, I had two exams and a paper due. I was able to go home for the weekend to spend it with my family. It was a nice break in this homestretch to the end of the school year (not only that, I had NO HOMEWORK, practically unheard of for me!). The two hours it took to get home was a drag, but it is nice to be in the comfort of my own home to celebrate Pascha with my family.
After I got home on Friday, my mom, sister and I went to the Lamentations service Friday night, which is essentially the funeral service for Christ. It is customary to decorate the kouvouklion, Christ’s tomb with flowers in anticipation of the service. It also houses the epitaphio, an icon of Christ after he was removed from the cross (this takes place at the Apolitikion service Friday afternoon) that is placed in the kouvouklion for the rest of the service.
During the service, the epitaphio in the kouvouklion is proceeded around the church by the altar boys while hymns are sung. Upon entering back inside the church, the congregation walked under the epitaphio. It was a great night to take it outside, as it can be hit or miss around this time of the year weather wise. At the end, the congregation gets a rose from the kouvouklion to take home.
The last service I attended was the Anastasi (Resurrection) service Saturday night/Sunday morning. The service takes place at midnight, lasting until about 2 in the morning. In addition to the initial resurrection service, there is Divine Liturgy that follows. The service begins with the priest coming out from the sanctuary saying “Come receive the light,” then the ushers come forward and carry the light to the rest of the congregation. It takes me back to my first one when I was about 12 years old. I remember how magical it was watching as the light was passed around the church, where the halos of the icons of the church lit in the candlelight. It is still magical for me, and anticipation grows as the lights of the church goes off and the priest comes out with the light. Once everyone has the light, “Xristos Anesti” is sung, known as the resurrection hymn. For the Orthodox, instead of greeting with “Happy Easter,” you say “Xristos Anesti,” and then reply with “Alithos Anesti,” translating to “Christ has risen. Truly he has risen.”
I also got to break my fast morning, and treated myself to a Reese’s egg! Needless to say, I feel very accomplished I was able to be disciplined and keep the chocolate fast all Lent, as it is my weakness!
Yesterday was filled with lots and lots of food, mostly lamb, roasted right on the spit in the backyard. What better way to finish off the weekend than with a Greek-sized feast?